Betterment Review 2020: Pros, Cons, & Expert Opinion

By: Jeremy Biberdorf

October 22, 2020

In a nutshell: Betterment is an industry leader as a simple, low-cost, easy-to-use robo-advisor.


With just 0.25% in management fees and automated tax-loss harvesting, Betterment makes it easy to put your portfolio on autopilot.

Pros:

  • Low Management Fees
  • Tax-Coordinated Portfolio
  • Automatic Investing

Cons:

  • Limited Portfolio Customization
  • Limited Compatibility with External Accounts
  • No Real Estate Investing

In a nutshell: Betterment is an industry leader as a low-cost, easy-to-use robo-advisor.


With just 0.25% in management fees and automated tax-loss harvesting, Betterment makes it easy to put your portfolio on autopilot.

Fees

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Pros:

  • Low Management Fees
  • Tax-Coordinated Portfolio
  • Automatic Investing

Cons:

  • Limited Portfolio Customization
  • Limited Compatibility with External Accounts
  • No Real Estate Investing

Disclosure: This Betterment review may contain affiliate links. This means we earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you purchase a product through our links.


Betterment is a leader as a simple, low-cost robo-advisor. With low management fees and tax-loss harvesting, it makes automation easy.


In this Betterment review, we'll take a deep dive into all of Betterment's features and how they stack up.


Robo-advisors like Betterment are changing the world of investing. That's because they create personalized advice for investors using a series of algorithms.


Above all, Betterment creates an investment strategy and builds an investment portfolio that works.


Click for Betterment pricing and details.


Whether you are planning for college, getting married, or want to create tax efficient retirement savings, robo-advisors make it easy.


Plus, they just make it far less stressful.


Let's dive right in and take a look at everything Betterment has to offer.

What is Betterment?

Fees

0.25% (Digital), 0.40% (Premium)

Minimum Balance

$0

Account Types

IRA, Brokerage, Trust, Cash, Checking

Tax-Loss Harvesting?

Yes

Best For

Passive Investors

Betterment is at the forefront in the world of robo-advisors. Investors can use the platform to get advice on many different investment opportunities, including:


  • Mutual funds
  • Bond funds
  • Exchange traded funds

Also, Betterment uses fractional shares.


What are fractional shares, you ask? Well, they help users fully leverage their money.


For example, you may want to buy a share of Google stock. And then you look at the share price.


Gasp.


Don't worry: fractional shares allow you to buy tiny chunks of a share. That means you won't have to wait until you can buy full shares.


Betterment is not just a bunch of algorithms. On the contrary: Betterment has great reputation compared to competitors.


It has an excellent customer service record, and users can seek advice from a certified financial planner (CFP).


Betterment offers unlimited access to this kind of advice through its Premium plan.


A Betterment brokerage account is perfect for new investors. Especially those who don’t want to spend many hours learning about investing.


As a result, Betterment remains the most well-known robo-advisor in the market.


It’s also a great place for more experienced investors to park their money and watch it grow. That's because it has tax advantages.


Now is a good time to sign up with Betterment. You could get up to 12 months free (no management fees!).


Click here to see promotion details.


Getting Started


New Betterment enrollees currently enjoy double payouts for accounts with $100,000 or more. Additionally, customers with taxable accounts of $100,000 get a free Canary home security device.


Betterment enrolls new investors in an automated portfolio of stocks and bonds. Then, it charges a flat 0.25% fee for its Digital Plan. For the Premium plan, you'll pay a 0.40% fee.


Betterment’s website shows you how much you need to contribute for retirement.


You can also see how your account will grow over the years in all kinds of market environments.


With automated deposits, you won’t have to manage a thing.


Betterment’s tax-loss harvesting (known as TLH+), automated diversification, Tax-Coordinated Portfolio, and reinvestment of dividends will make your money grow.


Not only that, but it'll save you money on taxes, too.


Betterment is simple, effective investing for the Internet generation.


Our enthusiasm about Betterment is real. Read on to learn why.

Betterment Account Types

Betterment has a wide variety of account types:


  • Individual taxable account
  • Joint taxable account
  • Traditional, Roth, and SEP IRA
  • Inherited IRA
  • Trust account
  • High-yield savings account
  • Checking account

Betterment also supports 401k rollovers. Hence, it allows you to roll an old 401k into a Betterment IRA.


You also have the option to link external accounts to help track your financial goals.


How Does Betterment Stack Up?

Monthly Fees

$0

Minimum Investment

$0

Promo
Tax-Loss Harvesting

No

Dynamic Rebalancing

Yes

Monthly Fees

$0

Minimum Investment

$0

Promo
Tax-Loss Harvesting

Yes

Dynamic Rebalancing

Yes

Management Fees

0.25% (Digital), 0.40% (Premium)

Minimum Investment

$0 (Digital), $100,000 (Premium)

Promo
Management Fees
$0 or $125/year (M1 Plus)
Minimum Investment

$0

Promo

The Betterment Story

Betterment was founded in 2008 by Jon Stein, who still serves as CEO. The company launched in 2010 after a big debut at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC.


After that, Betterment quickly scored $3 million in funding and has enjoyed steady growth ever since.


The press has been kind to Betterment. For example, you’ve likely seen glowing reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and CNN.


Betterment’s portfolio results have proved that this is more than hype. Indeed, Betterment now has more than 150,000 users and manages more than $4 billion.


Almost a decade from its inception, Betterment is here to stay. In fact, it's now a major player in the investment world.


The result? It's bringing a new generation into the intelligent stock market investing.


Betterment’s Methods


When using Betterment, the first thing investors are asked about is their goals. For example, building a retirement fund or creating an emergency fund. 


Betterment reviews your goals and considers what your holdings should be. In addition, it determines the appropriate level of risk.


Finally, it provides dedicated advice based on the financial goals of the investor.


Let's take a closer look at Betterment's methods.


Betterment Investment Performance


Independent investment managers usually charge more than 1% annually. Nevertheless, they usually fail to beat the market.


Betterment has “beaten the market” 88% of the time since its inception. It does this with a portfolio of US and international stocks compiled by experts.

Betterment Performance

Like many robo-advisors, it uses Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) to maximize performance while minimizing risk.

As a result, Betterment’s portfolio grew a massive 101.3% between 2009 and 2014.


And in 2013, the platform boasted 11% growth with a 70% stock allocation.


New User Promotions


Betterment’s new user promo waives the service free for up to 12 months for new accounts. Plus, there are extra perks for those who refer people.


Seamless Platform Performance


Betterment platform performance couldn’t be better and it works well on just about any platform.


For instance, whether you have a desktop, laptop, or smartphone, Betterment is compatible.


It’s a 21st century platform and it just works.

Betterment Mobile App

Better Investment Philosophy


Betterment uses every possible method to save their users money and add value to the platform.


For example, it includes free standard offerings like TLH+, Smart Deposit Automation, and a Tax-Coordinated portfolio.


And these features are all built on low-cost, high-performance ETFs.


Betterment Investment Options


It’s easy to create custom asset allocations and personalized investment goals. As such, you can also create a variety of account types, including taxable and non-taxable accounts.


Nearly every aspect of Betterment is favorable. Simply put, it's an investment model that offers the best results to the most people.

Betterment Process

FAQ and TL/DR

It's time to take a look at what Betterment has to offer in more detail.


Too busy to read the full review? Here are some answers to your deepest burning questions about Betterment.

Betterment Pricing

Betterment recently changed their pricing policy. Consequently, all users now pay 0.25%, regardless of account balance for the standard Digital plan.


This is a discount for low-net worth users. These users used to pay 0.35%.


However, it's also a price increase for high-net worth users. They used to pay 0.15%.

Plan Name

Min. Balance

Management Fees

Digital

$0

0.25%

Premium

$100,000

0.40%

There is no account minimum required for the Betterment Digital plan.


However, there is now a Premium plan with a 0.40% fee. This plan includes personalized asset advice and management.


Investors can get unlimited access to investment advisors by phone and email with this service. It's worth noting that users of the premium service are required to have an account balance of $100,000.


There is an impressive range of low fees all round for all Betterment services.


Betterment vs. Vanguard


Vanguard can sell you the same portfolio as Betterment for a little less money in annual fees. But only if you are willing to do a lot more work on your own.


In most cases, the cost difference is very slight.


At Vanguard, you’ll also have to perform all your own tax-loss harvesting, tax-coordinated portfolio service, re-allocation, re-investment, etc.


These perks more than cover the cost of your Betterment fees.


Betterment vs. Robinhood


Betterment and Robinhood both have a lot to offer, but the target market is quite different.


Betterment is great for those who want a hands-off approach to investing. Once you determine your stock/bond, all you have to do is add money to your portfolio.


The platform does the rest. Since it has automatic rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting, it really is a set-it-and-forget-it solution.


Of course, you do pay a fee for that convenience, which is something to keep in mind.


Robinhood is really quite different. This app is a commission-free trading platform that allows you to trade a variety of different assets.


Specifically, you can use Robinhood to trade stocks, bonds, ETFs, and options. Even cryptocurrency trading is possible with this app.


And there are no commissions for any of these trades, nor is there a membership fee.


What you don't get with Robinhood is any sort of dynamic rebalancing or tax-loss harvesting. It's more of a DIY solution.


Nevertheless, the lack of commissions make Robinhood great for more active traders. Day traders would find this app useful, for sure.


Can I Trust Betterment?


Betterment is not a bank, so it's not FDIC insured. Nevertheless, it is regulated and its users are insured by the SIPC.


In addition, it has great scam/fraud protection and encryption.


See their BBB rating here.


Can I Use Betterment in Canada? Can I Use Betterment in Australia?


Not at this time, but they’re working on making it available. You may see that coming in the near future.


What Does the Betterment Portfolio Look Like?


Betterment works to give the user a strong selection of individual stocks and bonds. As a result, users see great historical performance and affordability inan investment account.


The user selects their own stock/bond allocation. Bonds generally offer slow growth, reliable dividends, and low risk of value loss.


On the other hand, stocks are more volatile, but can experience higher growth.


Betterment’s current portfolio offerings are as follows:

Stocks

Bonds

Vanguard U.S. Total Stock Market (VTI)

iShares Short-Term Treasury Bond Index (SHV)

Vanguard US Large-Cap Value Index (VTV)

iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond
(AGG)

Vanguard US Mid-Cap Value Index (VOE)

Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities (VTIP)

Vanguard US Small-Cap Value Index (VBR)

Vanguard US Total Bond Market Index (BNDX)

Vanguard FTSE Developed Market Index (VEA)

iShares National AMT-Free Muni Bond Index (MUB)

Vanguard FTSE Emerging Index (VWO)

iShares Corporate Bond Index (LQD)


iShares J.P. Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond (EMB)

*Note: Betterment stocks slightly favor value and small-cap stocks, which historically outperform the broad market. You wanted a detailed Betterment review. We tried to leave no stone unturned.

Betterment Features

Betterment has a number of unique features that set it apart from the competition. All of these features help ensure your portfolio will be safe, secure, and properly managed.


Custom Asset Allocation


This customization is based on the account type an investor has and what their risk levels look like.


SmartDeposit


This feature is especially useful for investors with irregular income. With it, you can choose to invest automatically whenever your bank account balance reaches a certain amount.


Likewise, you can limit the amount of the investment. One of the best things about SmartDeposit is that it is easy to set up.


Tax-Coordinated Portfolio


This feature enables the allocation of assets based on the tax efficiency of tax-deferred and taxable accounts.


Passwords to Control Security


Investors can allow services such as Personal Capital and Mint to see a read only version of their information without compromising the security of their account.


Socially Responsible Investing


The socially responsible investing feature at Betterment supports ETFs that have a positive effect on the world.


It does all that while being fully diversified and low-cost. Specifically, it replaces the following asset classes with SRI alternatives:


  • U.S. stocks – large cap
  • Emerging market stocks
  • Developed market stocks

Betterment has offered socially-responsible investing since 2017. But, in 2020, it expanded its socially-responsible products.


The original portfolio became known as the Broad Impact portfolio.


It then added two new socially-responsible portfolios: Social Impact and Climate Impact. In doing so, it allows investors to hone in on the issues they value most.


Climate Impact Portfolio


The Climate Impact portfolio focuses on mitigating climate change. In particular, it invests in three areas:


  • The companies with the lowest carbon footprints in each sector
  • Funds that actively exclude companies with fossil fuel reserves
  • "Green bonds" which invest in alternative energy, pollution control, and climate adaptation

Specifically, the Climate Impact portfolio invests half of its assets in the iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target ETF (CRBN). It's worth noting that low carbon does not mean carbon-free.


CRBN scores a C grade on Fossil Free Funds with almost $23 million invested in fossil fuels.


That said, the fund has almost $485M in assets. That's less than half a percent of its equity in fossil fuels.


And that's better than other popular funds such as VTSAX. This fund has about 6% of its equity in fossil fuels.


Still, I would have liked to see a slightly better score in terms of climate impact for this fund.


The rest of the Climate Impact portfolio is invested in SPYX, EFAX, and EEMX. SPYX also scores a C on Fossil Free Funds, but the other two score slightly better with a B grade.


Social Impact Portfolio


The Social Impact portfolio invests in US companies that value diversity. This includes funds such as the NACP ETF and the SHE ETF.


These two funds give exposure to organizations that value ethnic and racial diversity and gender diversity, respectively.


BlackRock Target Income Portfolio


This is a relatively new portfolio option at Betterment. It's an ideal solution for anyone who is looking for low risk investments.


The entire portfolio is centered on bonds that provide a low level of risk.


Goldman Sachs Smart Beta Portfolio


This is another portfolio that is a recent addition to Betterment. In order to compete with the likes of Schwab, investors who use Betterment can benefit from the implementation of Smart Beta. This helps improve returns.


Mobile App Access to a Financial Expert


Anyone who signs up for a Betterment account can send a message to a financial expert using the Betterment app. It's an excellent way of getting an answer to any pertinent questions.


Giving to Charity


Customers of Betterment can donate an amount of shares of their choosing to certain charities. This benefits the charities as well as helping investors to avoid capital gains tax on the shares which they donate.


Flexible Portfolios


Anyone who has $100,000 or more in their Betterment account can take advantage of this opportunity. It allows you to adjust the asset class weights within your portfolio.


Betterment Financial Advice Packages


One of the most recent offerings from Betterment provides investors with the opportunity to get help from a financial advisor.


Now, you can take advantage of individual advice packages.


That includes advice from a licensed financial expert or certified financial planner for specific life events.


For $199, you can book a 45-minute Getting Started call with  financial advisor. Then, if you want a call that is more tailored to your needs, you can book one of four 60-minute calls for $299:


  • Financial Checkup
  • College Planning
  • Marriage Planning
  • Retirement Planning


Betterment Cash Reserve and Checking


This new provision from Betterment has replaced the previous Smart Saver option. The new account is a cash management Betterment calls the Cash Reserve account.


This new account has an interest rate or APY of up to 0.40%. Additionally, this savings account has no fees.


Anyone who chooses to use this facility gets access to Betterment checking accounts, savings accounts and Visa debit cards.


The checking account also has some nice features. For example, Betterment will reimburse all ATM fees. That means both foreign and domestic.


It also eliminated overdraft fees, transaction fees, and minimum balances.


What's left? A no-nonsense checking account.


Betterment IRA Review, and Other Account Types


Because so many users start Betterment IRAs, this account type is worth a little extra attention.


An individual retirement account (IRA) helps those who are using Betterment for retirement planning.


Betterment users can utilize Retireguide to carry out a comprehensive retirement calculation in order to choose the right retirement account for them.


They can choose between several different IRA accounts including a Traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, and a SEP IRA, depending on tax deference preferences and retirement goals.


Betterment’s visualization tools make it easy to see the advantages of each tax model.


In addition, users can start Taxable Accounts, 401k, Trust Accounts, and 529 Plans.

Reviews of Betterment's Departments, Products, and Offerings

There are a lot of aspects to Betterment’s service. Here’s what we’ve found after more than a year of use.

Tax-Coordinated Portfolio

5/5

Betterment’s TCP adds a lot of value to the already great service. A Betterment-controlled Tax-Coordinated Portfolio is a way to automatically put expensive holdings into tax-protected accounts and cheap holdings into taxable accounts.


Of course, this only works for people who have multiple accounts with Betterment. But as you use the service longer and longer, you’ll likely do just that.


Let’s say you have one taxable account, one Roth IRA, and one Traditional IRA.


Betterment’s algorithms automatically swap out all the assets contained in these accounts until they are in an orientation that costs you the least amount of money possible. Betterment estimates annual savings of 0.48%, or 15% over 30 years.

Customer Service

5/5

Betterment is responsive and detailed in its emails. Betterment chat is now available, and representatives are available by phone 7 days a week until mid-late evening EST.


There is even a special line for 401(k) customers, Plus, and Premium customers.

Betterment Promotions

5/5

Betterment offers up to 12 months of free service for new accounts with $500,000 and above.


$10,000 new accounts get 1 month of free service, $25,000-$49,999 2 months, $50,000-$99,999 3 months, $100,000-$249,999 6 months, and $250,000-$499,999 9 months.

Tax-Loss Harvesting & Rebalancing

5/5

Betterment offers free tax-loss harvesting and re-allocation/portfolio balancing. Also, Betterment will automatically rebalance your portfolio so you don't have to worry about maintaining it.


Both of these could be accomplished by users through traditional platforms, but the time and costs involved would quickly eat up the savings incurred.

How Do I Sign Up?

At this point, you might be ready to sign up for Betterment. Good news – it’s really easy.


New users input all the usual information, then start asking some questions about their investment goals (risk tolerance, time horizon, etc.).


You’ll be asked to link to your financial institution, which can be completed in minutes. New funds show up in just a couple of days, at which point your account is up and running.


Users transferring IRAs and other accounts from other brokers will usually see the accounts appear in 2-3 weeks.


There’s no minimum deposit to begin, but make sure to take advantage of free service for the initial deposit amounts specified above.


Once your account is humming along, Betterment will send you a series of helpful emails, detailing Betterment features and making sure you’re getting the most out of the service.


Betterment understands how to make this helpful, not annoying, a delicate balance Vanguard hasn’t figured out, IMHO.


Click here to Sign Up.

Conclusion

You’ve just read lots of words about Betterment investing. By now, you know we’re enthusiastic about Betterment, and that we have every reason to be.


To sum up, Betterment is affordable and effective for use in financial planning and the creation of investment strategies.


Investors and personal finance enthusiasts can appreciate just how easy Betterment makes it.


It’s so easy to use and so effective at growing wealth that new investors are signing up by the thousands, especially as there is no minimum investment.


We love how responsive Betterment is to user feedback, how quick they respond to our emails, and how many useful features and improvements they’ve added in a short time.


We only expect Betterment to get better. Even now, they’re a true leader in the robo-advisor and modern investment landscape.


Click for Betterment Pricing and Details.




Tax-Coordinated Portfolio

5/5

Customer Service

5/5

Betterment Promotions

5/5

Tax-Loss Harvesting & Rebalancing

5/5

avatar

About the Author:

Jeremy Biberdorf is the founder of Modest Money. After working many years in the website marketing industry, he decided to take on blogging full time and also get his finances headed in the right direction. Also check out his contributions to Equities.com and Benzinga.

48 thoughts on “Betterment Review 2020: Pros, Cons, & Expert Opinion”

  1. Thanks for this review. It seems like more and more apps/companies/brokerages are looking to entice 20 somethings to invest. While I like the idea of making investing simple and somewhat automated, I think it can be easy for anyone to start on their own and build their own dividend income portfolio with the likes of Loyal3 or Sharebuilder. Easy, no/low fees and buy 20 or so solid dividend payers, reinvest and just let time compound your dividend income. Have you seen Acorns? I wrote about them on my blog. They take your excess change from everyday purchases and buy ETF’s for you.

  2. I had requested a demo via their website 3 days ago and never got a response. I called to follow up and the excuse was that they have been overwhelmed with requests and cannot keep up. I can’t imagine what customer support would be like once I pay for the product. Typical growth company; too much marketing but not enough infrastructure to handle the workload. I suggest that anyone condsidering this company hold off until the dust settles.

  3. I’ve been using betterment for 2 years. I was testing their goals, which really aren’t goals but instead accounts, and I unintentionally deleted my goal or account and it transferred the money back to my account and lost the performance data. Their system does not stop simple mistakes and the result was pretty serious. I was pretty upset. Not sure I’m going to use them again. Their site isn’t ready to serious use if they allow a flaw like that.

  4. Great roundup as usual, really enjoyed your article about this Betterment Review. I will share this to my friends so that they can get tips before they invest in anything.

  5. Mr Ikonz @ ProjectIkonz.com

    Nice review!
    Seems like a great platform for people that don’t necessarily have a huge amount of time or expertise to throw at investing.

    I personally still like to control the investment decisions of all of my trades though.

  6. Interesting review. Looks like Betterment is a good starting point for people who is entering the market.

    Thanks for sharing!

    BeSmartRich

  7. I’m not a proponent of diversification as a way to reduce risk. But Betterment is a good option for people who are just starting out.

    One advantage is the ability to invest in bonds. Investing in the right bonds can provide safe yearly returns with less risk that fluctuating big name stocks.

    Their tax loss harvesting feature is a good way to perform better on after-tax returns.

    If you have the knowledge to do your own research into equities and assets, it’s better to invest into stocks yourself, and write calls every month, in order to capture extra income. That’s my modest take.

  8. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    Josh, thanks for your review because I am planning to use the services of Betterment. It seems like Betterment is a good starting point for investment and offers trustworthy investment strategies.

  9. Wow. What misunderstandings I’m reading about betterment. First, their fees are tiny compared to the low fees I pay elsewhere. Second, their customer support is awesome. You get s human fast, they are knowledgeable and results oriented.

    I am a seasoned investor; currently, my primary accounts are elsewhere but I opened a small account at betterment to try it. I like it.
    Hafenz

  10. I’ve had them for a year now. I have had $100 a month auto deposited and am now sitting at NEGATIVE 4.2% time weighted earanigs and -$229 ROI.

    I highly recommend Acorns. Same idea but they actually will get you a return on your investment.

    1. Hi Danny,
      If you saw no or negative returns in 2015 you were definitely not alone. The market was tough last year. I managed to scrape by with 3% over all growth but only because I have a very diverse portfolio with some great holdings in healthcare IT stocks. Basically last year was not kind. My year-to-date performance is about 3 times as high without making any major changes. My holdings are currently not in Betterment but I am looking at taking my taxable investments over to them. I rang up some taxable activity last year and would like to see if they can do better than I did with tax harvesting.

  11. I am seeing several comments saying this is great for new investors who don’t know much about investing. I looks to me like it could be good for any investor especially if you have a busy life and can’t spend time constantly researching your portfolio. I liked the comments by LM which were included in your review about creating buckets in the safety net goal. It sounds similar to a ladder strategy. I am considering starting an account using the cash sitting in my taxable brokerage account.

  12. Really nice review – I think this is a real gem for newer investors and the fees are very reasonable. It is amazing what your money can do when you don’t have brokers reaching into your pocket all the time to fund their high rise NYC apartments!

  13. Since Betterment was established in 2010, they haven’t experienced a major correction. What protections are in place to prevent large losses?

Comments are closed.